From Kemi Yesufu,
2017, a pivotal period in the four year-tenure of the 8th House ended on a celebratory high. Hundreds of members of the House of Representatives rushed back to Abuja, a day after Christmas to join Speaker Yakubu Dogara in marking his 50th birthday.
Though members came together to sponsor the Speaker’s birthday luncheon, during which his authorised biography Dogara: A Reed Made Flint was presented to the public, that didn’t stop them from mentioning, the nagging problem of delayed salaries-the situation had majority of lawmakers complaining of being broke even in December. This is despite the N125 billion budgetary allocations to the National Assembly for 2017.
Unlike in the senate, where the President of the senate, Bukola Saraki was “hounded and blackmailed” for defying the party, Dogara who also won his election as speaker through the support of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members; as only about eight All Progressives Congress (APC) members voted for him, enjoyed a “chummy” relationship with the presidency all through.
Nevertheless for keen observers who watched the House closely, not many members worked for their ‘jumbo pay’ as the perennial, disappointing display of absenteeism at plenary and committee meetings reached its peak the year under review.
It therefore came as no surprise that despite commencing on a number of probes and other specific assignments, a dismal number of standing committees and ad-hoc panels submitted their reports before the House went on Christmas break.
Quick to come to mind is the House Tactical Committee on Recession. The inauguration of the Bode Ayorinde-led working group, followed the adoption of a motion entitled, “Need for More Proactive Steps to Abate Hardship Being Experienced by Nigerians As a Result of the Economic Recession”.
The committee was mandated to monitor steps and policies initiated by the federal government towards returning the country’s economy to the path of growth. The panel was directed to interface with government ministries, agencies and departments and to also interact with Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, the Nigeria Labour Congress and civil society organisations, with a view to coming up with ideas that would pull the country out of recession. Sadly however, the panel didn’t present its report, until the National Bureau of Statistics announced that the country was out of recession.
The invitation extended former President Goodluck Jonathan, led to another instance at which the House was accused of blowing hot air. The ad-hoc committee investigating the alleged fraud in the award of Oil Prospecting License (OPL) 245 to Malabu Oil and Gas, had on July 5 2017, written Jonathan to explain his part in the deal, particularly as his name was mentioned a number of times in the matter which saw the country fraudulently losing huge revenues. The Razak Atunwa headed committee failed to announce if the former president responded to its invitation or not.
Regardless of the poor showing by investigative committees, Nigerians would no doubt remember shocking expositions from landmark probes, including the one on the return and reinstatement of fugitive, former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, Abdulrasheed Maina. The ad-hoc committee led by Aliyu Madaki, held an explosive hearing into how Maina was recalled into the federal civil service and allegedly promoted a step higher.
Maina was in 2013 recommended for dismissal by the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC), following a directive by the Office of the Head of Service (OHS). In 2012, Maina was accused of leading a massive pension fraud scheme amounting to more than N100 billion.
Though critical individuals didn’t give the House a pass mark in the area of coming up with testable recommendations as outcomes of some of its probes, Speaker Dogara has rated his colleagues highly in the aspect of bills and motions, saying, the 8th House has passed a record number of bills and motions.
Another high in 2017, which Dogara can point to is the hosting of the first public hearing on the federal budget. The Speaker in his welcome address in January 2017, assured that the National Assembly would bring various stakeholders together to take a critical look at the Appropriation Bill. But even with the public hearing on the 2017 Appropriation Bill, the National Assembly had a major falling out with the executive, with it, pointing to lawmakers tinkering with the budget, to the level of distorting well laid out plans.
The tinkering also led to whispers of budget padding. Specifically, minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, expressed frustration over the moving of funds from big ticket projects to small projects that should be handled at LGA level; but the House ad-hoc committee assigned to look into Fashola’s comments, which enraged members, managed to force a half-hearted apology from the minister.
As at January 2017, the House had passed not fewer than 150 bills, all of which were transmitted to the senate for concurrence. Of the 25 non-budget related bills assented to by the presidency since the beginning of the current administration, 22 emanated from the House committee charged with the responsibility of reviewing obsolete laws and updating the nation’s statutes books. This much Dogara alluded to when he was presented with an award from New Telegraph in his office recently.
Suffice to say that there were key legislations Nigerians appear to be looking forward to and this is why the non-passage of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (P.I.G.B) , last year, has been heavily criticised by many Nigerians.
House Chief Whip, Alhassan Doguwa heads the ad-hoc committee on the P.I.G.B. But not much work has been done by the committee. Again, the rejection of the South-East Development Commission Bill (SEDC) in the Green Chamber wasn’t well received, not only by people from the South-East, but protagonists of restructuring.
Relief however came from the senate which passed the SEDC Bill for second reading. By implication, the bill will still return to the House for concurrence before it is transmitted to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent.
On the part of lawmakers, they have continued to register their anger over the failure of President Buhari to assent to the National Assembly Budget Research Office (NABRO) Bill. Daily Sun learnt of moves to collate enough signatures to push for a veto from the National Assembly on the bill.
Nigerians, a large chunk of who have bought into the idea of restructuring are the main reason the House has promised to revisit the devolution of power. Last July, the House concurred for most parts with the senate in amending the 1999 Constitution. But the House voted against the bill that sought to alter the Second Schedule, Part I & II to move certain items to the Concurrent Legislative List in order give more legislative powers to states. In spite of 210 members voting in support of the devolution of powers, the amendment didn’t scale through as the, ‘yes’ votes weren’t up to the 240 (two-third majority) threshold needed, as enshrined in the constitution.
It may appear a bit harsh to declare that the House recorded little or no success in finding solutions to bloody attacks by Fulani herdsmen and other violent crimes even with its resolutions- calling on security agencies to apprehend those behind these crimes, that however appear to be the verdict from most Nigerians, especially those that are directly affected by these recurring attacks since 2015. This is because the House at different times interfaced with heads of security agencies, and even holding an executive session with minister of Interior, Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau (retd), the minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, Chief of Defence Staff, Maj. Gen. Abayomi Olonishakin and the Inspector -General of Police, Ibrahim Idris last June. But it is telling that Dogara mentioned the House leading the call for improved protection of lives and property in his agenda setting speech in January 2016 and with days to the House resuming on Tuesday January 16, he issued a statement calling on the president to act decisively, following attacks by herdsmen in Benue State.
With 2019 elections in sight, more defections have been predicted to occur this year. A couple of members elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), defected to the ruling party, in 2016, the last two being a member from Imo State, Nnanna Igbokwe and another from Edo State, Johnson Agbonnayinnma.
Interestingly, something novel happened in the House in 2017 as two members, Baballe Bashir from Kano State and Abubakar Chika from Niger-State, declared that they won’t seek re –election in 2019.
But others might have to re-align politically in attempts to make it back to the House. The Speaker isn’t left out as there is talk that he wants to enact a “David Mark”, by returning to the Green Chamber and retaining the number -4 position in the country.
The fact that the governor of his state, Mohammed Abubakar attended his birthday, signalling a reconciliation of some sort has led to the speculation getting louder. Nigerians will definitely be looking to members of the House to balance politicking with carrying out their duties in the National Assembly, as the House resumes in 2018 after its Christmas break.